BY JULIE MANGANIS
---- — SALEM — When investigators confronted him about the injuries to the 2-year-old girl he’d been caring for, Juan Javier Claudio blamed the child, a prosecutor said yesterday.
The toddler, Claudio allegedly claimed, had climbed to the top of a stack of plastic storage bins and then jumped, landing on her face, he told them. A few days later, she ran into a door, he told the investigators from the Salem police and Department of Children and Families.
But neither scenario explains how the little girl sustained severe injuries last month to her neck and mouth, or the large bruise on her stomach that, doctors say, may have come from a blow that also injured her liver.
Claudio, 28, of 10 Dow St., Salem, is now facing charges that include attempted murder and two counts of assault and battery on a child causing serious injury.
Yesterday, Salem Superior Court Judge Timothy Feeley, noting the serious potential penalty Claudio is facing — up to 20 years in prison on the attempted-murder charge — and Claudio’s prior history of violating court orders, set bail at $25,000 cash.
That was the amount requested by prosecutor Kate MacDougall. She had intended to ask that Claudio be held without bail as a danger but withdrew the request because of a delay in completing a transcript of the grand jury proceedings that led to Claudio’s indictment last month.
Instead, MacDougall, who is the head of the district attorney’s family and sex crimes unit, described the child’s injuries to the judge and how prosecutors now believe they occurred.
The child was strangled, nearly to death, MacDougall told the judge.
Enough force was used to cause air to become trapped under the skin on her neck, the prosecutor said. And while she was being strangled, she apparently struggled, biting through the insides of both cheeks because “she was fighting so hard,” the prosecutor said.
Doctors at North Shore Children’s Hospital also believe the child had an elevated level of liver enzymes, consistent with an injury to that organ.
The child also had large bruises on her arm and face, including her eyelid and forehead, and on the tops of her ears, the prosecutor said. Doctors also found bite marks, though they believe those may have been inflicted by another child in the house at the time.
The child’s mother had left her daughter with Claudio and his then-girlfriend, a family friend, on Sunday, March 10, with a plan to pick up the child two days later.
Claudio’s girlfriend — herself now a named victim in a fourth indictment charging Claudio with aggravated assault and battery — told the grand jury that on Monday, she had become suspicious that Claudio had started using prescription drugs or heroin again.
Claudio was acting in a “frenetic” manner, she said, making repeated trips to the basement and telling his girlfriend that he needed to clean it before the landlord came over.
When she confronted him, she later testified, he struck her in the arm.
MacDougall told the judge that the girlfriend took a combination of medications and went to bed around 5 a.m. on Tuesday, the 12th. The woman testified that she awoke around 10:30, saw that the little girl was still in her pajamas, eating breakfast with her own older children, ages 7 and 9, and then went back to sleep, waking again at 2.
But this time, the little girl was acting differently, MacDougall said. She was groggy and nonresponsive.
The woman, aware that the girl’s grandfather would be arriving to pick her up shortly, waited for him instead of calling for help.
The girl’s grandfather rushed her to North Shore Children’s Hospital, where the staff contacted police.
Claudio’s girlfriend went to police, but not about the child. She reported that Claudio had struck her on Monday night during their argument, and Claudio was arrested on a domestic assault charge. He never returned to the woman’s Read Street home after that, moving in with his father on Dow Street because of a restraining order.
Following his indictment two weeks later, Claudio, who was on probation for a Florida case, was arrested as he stepped off a community service van outside the Salem courthouse last Friday afternoon.
Defense lawyer Joseph Collins argued that the case is circumstantial and that many of the child’s injuries could be explained by both Claudio’s account and the presence of other children in the apartment at the time.
“This is more of a case of a defendant refusing to seek medical care,” Collins argued. “This is not a case of attempted murder. It is, at most, a case of neglect.”
Collins suggested that one of the other children in the house, a 7-year-old whom the victim's family members described as mentally ill or suffering severe behavioral issues, including cruelty to animals, could be responsible for the injuries.
But MacDougall told the judge that the force used to strangle the girl is beyond anything a young child could muster.
Feeley, in setting bail, also noted Claudio’s ties to Florida, where he has a criminal record of robbery and narcotics charges.
“I am concerned about the risk of flight, given his time in Florida,” Feeley said.
A pretrial conference is scheduled for May 7.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at email@example.com or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.